Class of 2012
By Evan Benn, Sarah Bennett and Courtney Cox
With 2,751 breweries open as of press time, according to the Beer Institute, there are currently more breweries operating in the US than in any other time in history, many of which opened in 2012. This year, nanobreweries proved they’re here to stay, while “gypsy” brewers continued to produce some of the best beer in the market (much to the chagrin of some larger shops). New breweries capitalized on the session beer movement. And in a saturated market, some plucky startups opened on the strength of a niche concept, like Bière de Champagne. Along with double-digit ABVs, dreams of massive expansion have been refined; 2012’s new breweries pride themselves on being fixtures of their neighborhoods and sourcing ingredients locally. Here are just a few of the year’s openings that have helped shape the current state of the American craft beer industry.
Opened: January 2012
In both Dallas and beyond, Michael Peticolas’ beers have taken on lives of their own. Velvet Hammer, his 9-percent ABV Imperial Red Ale, already has a tribute song written about it (by local band Fish Fry Bingo). And Royal Scandal—Peticolas’ British-style Pale Ale—won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival this past October (it was submitted for judging after being on the market for only 40 days). “‘Cloud nine’ took on a new meaning for me,” Peticolas gushes about his namesake brewery’s rookie-year GABF win. “I literally floated down to the stage.” Expansion was once part of a long-term plan, but with bars as far away as Colorado asking for kegs of his beer and the space next door recently being vacated, the attorney-by-day brewer says he can up the capacity of his 15-barrel brewhouse to 9,000 barrels a year. “My idea was to create a local market,” he says. “Make people want to come to Dallas.” [S.B.]
River North Brewery
Opened: February 2012
Former engineer Matt Hess has focused on brewing Belgian-style ales since opening River North Brewery just north of downtown Denver, in the same location that housed the Flying Dog taproom. “I don’t miss my engineering job, but I also don’t think I could have made it to this point without [that] background,” he says. Hess keeps about eight rotating brews on draft in his taproom, including the popular J. Marie Saison and BPR, a Belgian-style Pale Red Ale. River North engages fans through social media, like a recent Twitter contest to name its fermentors (the winners: Louis Pasteur Cultural Events Center and Think Tank). “We don’t have any sort of master plan for how we use social media,” Hess says. “We do it because it’s fun.” [E.B.]
Opened: March 2012
Kevin Buckley was going to be a professional jeweler until he discovered his knack for brewing beer. After heading up several breweries in Iowa and Canada, the self-proclaimed “control-freak brewer” eventually made his way back to San Diego County, where he worked at IPA-famous Alpine. “Given the choice of wearing flip-flops and shorts or slogging through ice and snow in January, I’ll take the shorts and flip-flops,” laughs Buckley, who opened Latitude 33 in the 20-barrel facility that once housed Green Flash Brewing. With a theme that plays off of the latitude on which Southern California sits, Buckley’s beers range from West Coast IPA’s to Wheatwines—which he hopes to have in bottles soon. Currently only available on draft in San Diego, California-wide distribution, he says, will come by the middle of the year. [S.B.]
Opened: April 2012
Tucson might not be nationally recognized as a craft beer destination, but the city’s newest commercial brewery hopes its local approach to common styles will put its burgeoning scene on the map. “The whole reason we did this is because we wanted to make beer Tucson and Arizona can be proud of,” says Tristan White, who, along with father-and-son homebrewers Eric and Bruce Green, opened the 15-barrel facility. (White is also Dragoon’s assistant brewer, head of sales and marketing, and taproom manager.) In addition to two year-round beers, Dragoon rotates through Southwest-inspired seasonals, like its Saison brewed with blue corn and blue agave, and a Mesquite Smoked Porter made with mesquite-smoked malt, to be released January 1st. Already, White says he is selling about 80 percent of Dragoon’s output in the market at beer bars, resorts and dive bars as far away as Phoenix, self-distributing to boot. [S.B.]
Newburgh Brewing Co.
Opened: April 2012
The sessionable beer movement is thriving in the heart of the Hudson Valley, where Newburgh Brewing is already planning to double production of their low-ABV beers to 2,400 barrels in 2013. Ten of Newburgh’s 13 beers have been under 4.5-percent ABV. “Being able to have a couple of my beers with friends and not be a danger to ourselves or others and feeling great the next day is, to us, the perfect blend of the great things that craft beer has to offer,” says Newburgh’s president, Paul Halayko. Customers can also enjoy the locally sourced food in the brewpub. Halayko credits their success to brewer Christopher Basso—the two have been best friends since they were 12. Basso, formerly of Brooklyn Brewery, eschews making “test batch after test batch,” often leaving recipes to the last minute. “You are never going to make a beer that everyone loves,” he says. A souring program and collaborations with other New York breweries are in the works. [C.C.]
Rock Bridge Brewery
Opened: April 2012
Brewmaster Stu Burkemper churned out about 350 barrels on Rock Bridge’s 4-barrel system in 2012. An upgrade to a 30-barrel system should increase the brewery’s 2013 barrelage to more than 1,500 barrels, with plans to begin canning by early summer. “We were pleasantly surprised that the reaction to what we’re doing has been the way it has,” says Burkemper, a former brewing assistant at Missouri’s O’Fallon Brewery. “We knew Columbia was a great market. It’s just been more than we could have guessed.” Rock Bridge’s increased capacity should allow expansion into Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks and the St. Louis metro area. Burkemper is currently working on a big Baltic Porter with 10- to 12-percent ABV, with which he’ll fill some one-off specialty firkins, as well as a sour English Brown Ale with Brettanomyces. [E.B.]
Societe Brewing Company
Opened: May 2012
Societe’s Travis Smith and Doug Constantiner cut their teeth at Russian River and The Bruery (respectively), then crossed paths while working together at The Bruery. The friends soon moved to San Diego, and, after two years of planning, opened their own brewery last year with a focus on three types of beers: IPA’s, Belgian-style ales and sours. “The flavors we’re going for have been invented already,” says Smith. “It’s not about creating some gimmick or using some ingredient that has never been used in a beer before. It’s about creating a quality product that we’re going to enjoy ourselves.” So far, Societe’s 20-barrel system has cranked out four IPA’s, three Belgian-style beers and a Russian Imperial Stout. Sour beers are also in the works. Smith says that their current focus is on supplying the San Diego market with their beer—which can be found either at the brewery’s taproom or on draft at a number of high-profile area bars. [S.B.]
Gigantic Brewing Co.
Opened: May 2012
Veteran brewers Van Havig and Ben Love, formerly of Rock Bottom Brewing and Hopworks Urban Brewery, respectively, opened Gigantic with the goal of never being gigantic. “We don’t plan on ever making more than 4,000 barrels a year,” Havig says. “By staying small, we remain actual brewers.” Gigantic IPA is their only year-round offering. Everything else is a 15-barrel, draft-only one-off or a seasonal release packaged in individually numbered bombers. One of those one-offs was Ume Umai. That’s Japanese for “plum yummy” and is a purple beer they brewed with Pilsner malt, black rice and plums for Portland’s Celebrate Izakaya festival. Love says the brewery will expand distribution from its current markets (Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Alaska and Vermont) to the California Bay Area, San Diego and possibly Chicago in 2013. [E.B.]
Due South Brewing Company
Boynton Beach, Fla.
Opened: May 2012
Former homebrewer and restaurant owner Mike Halker has a good problem on his hands at Due South Brewing. “We’re making a couple of hundred barrels a month, and we can’t make it fast enough,” says Halker, the owner and head brewer. “Craft beer is still up-and-coming here in South Florida, but the community [of craft drinkers] is growing very, very quickly.” Due South aims to double its 2012 production—to between 4,000 and 5,000 barrels—in 2013 on the strength of its core series (Caramel Cream Ale, Category 3 IPA and Honey Vanilla Wheat) and seasonals like their Category 4 and 5 IPA’s, Imperial Stout and Espresso Porter. “In our first six months, we put out 13 different beers,” Halker says, adding that they’ve also just begun their barrel-aging program. The brewery is draft only for now, but Halker says he will roll out 12-ounce bottles by spring. [E.B.]
Oklahoma City, Okla.
Opened: May 2012
Anthem may have only released one beer since Matt Anthony officially began commercially gypsy brewing last year, but the Belgian-style Blonde, called “Golden One,” has set him apart in the Oklahoma City scene. “A lot of people just want to drink IPA’s, and they’re not used to other styles,” Anthony says, citing his plans to get a permanent space so he can focus on barrel-aged styles and sours. “My niche is the more esoteric beers. I want people to see that beer can be a lot of things.” Anthem’s home base is currently OKCity Brewing Company’s 15-barrel brewhouse, where the Golden One is about to be put into oak barrels, anticipating a March release. Next up: a Saison and a Belgian Wit. Bottles, he hopes, will be ready for distribution in Oklahoma this month. [S.B.]
Solemn Oath Brewery
Opened: May 2012
Solemn Oath has come out of the gate strong from its perch in Naperville, a western suburb of Chicago. It nabbed two medals at the Windy City’s Festival of Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beers in November: silver for ultramegahighfrequency, an American Double Red aged in whiskey barrels, and bronze for Radth, a Belgian Pale brewed with cherries and aged in chardonnay barrels. “Not a bad start,” notes brewery president John Barley (yes, his real name), who credits head brewer Tim Marshall as “one the key reasons for our success.” The draft-only brewery plans to triple its production in 2013, to 3,000 barrels, and expects to begin packaging in 750-mL bottles at some point next year. The bottles will feature designs by Chicago artist Jourdon Gullett, who has been working with the brewery since its inception. “Even without a packaged product, we put a lot of effort into creating a persona for each beer,” Barley says. [E.B.]
Crux Fermentation Project
Opened: June 2012
With 40 years of brewing experience under his belt—from Deschutes to Olympia/Pabst Brewing—Crux Fermentation Project founder/brewmaster Larry Sidor says the decision to open his own shop was “very easy. [I’ve] never had another real job except brewing,” says Sidor, whose staff is just two people. “I’ve done the big corporate deal and simply prefer smaller operations.” Sidor has already brewed roughly 70 batches with 16 different types of beer, from session beers to a Northwest Pale Ale and a Flanders Red, with barrel aging and souring in the works. “Formulation has been one of the easier parts of this project,” says Sidor, adding that he’s designed thousands of recipes in his career, among them Deschutes’ The Abyss, The Dissident and the Black Butte Porter series. With a capacity of 20,000 hectoliters, Sidor hopes to brew 2,000 hectoliters in 2013, but expansion is not the goal here. “We don’t ever want to have to pull out of an area that we are committed to,” Sidor says. “Thus, brewing capacity expansion will happen, or not happen, to meet our distribution area.” [C.C.]
Union Craft Brewing
Opened: June 2012
When Union Craft began rolling out kegs of its Duckpin Pale Ale and Balt Altbier in the summer, it marked the first time Baltimore had a new production brewery in more than 30 years. It wasn’t long until the fledgling brewery gained some national recognition: Balt won the gold in the Altbier category of this year’s Great American Beer Festival. “We were in disbelief,” co-founder Jon Zerivitz says of the win. “After they announced the bronze and silver medals, I looked over at [brewmaster Kevin Blodger], and I could tell he had already lost hope to medal in the category. There was a delay between hearing our beer called out and when we registered that it was ours. Kev let out a huge ‘Yes!’ It was a really special moment for us.” Look for Duckpin and Balt to be packaged in cans starting in May, with seasonal offerings coming soon after. [E.B.]
Opened: June 2012
Working with private investors, Tired Hands founder Jean Brouillet renovated a former physician’s office and opened his brewpub with no bank loans. Along with full-time brewer Jon Defibaugh, from nearby Earth Bread & Brewery, Brouillet brews “dry, expressive beer that generally focuses intensely on one or two elements of the process,” like their two core beers: HopHands, a hoppy Pale Ale, and FarmHands, a four-grain Saison, both just 4.8-percent ABV. They also have a line of 5-percent single-hop Saisons, which complement the brewpub’s menu of local cheeses, cured meats, pickles and housemade bread. In the works is a 20-barrel production brewery, where they’ll brew more HopHands, FarmHands and a rotating Double IPA and bottle barrel-aged beers for local distribution. In the meantime, bottles of their oak-aged beer will soon be available at the brewpub—and keep an eye out for their Hill Farmstead collaboration, an oak-fermented Saison. [C.C.]
Opened: July 2012
There’s a good reason why Ben Howe’s is the only American Bière de Champagne—the style entails “refermenting beer in individual bottles to produce carbonation, storing the bottles nearly upside down in a riddling rack for a month, daily riddling or turning by hand of each bottle to coax the yeast sediment to the neck of the bottles, the individual freezing of the bottle necks, and finally, the flipping of the bottles, the removal of the caps, the disgorgement of the yeast, and hand corking and caging.” Not to mention self-distributing out of his Ford Focus in Massachusetts. Inspired by Pretty Things and Hill Farmstead, the “one-man show” runs on a 1.5-barrel brewhouse, on which Howe also brews other Belgian-inspired beers, an Export Stout and a Barleywine. “Enlightenment, despite being a business, sometimes seems like more of an artistic project,” says Howe, a former Cambridge Brewing Co. brewer, adding that he wants to represent the “secular as sacred” perspective in the brewing world. “Enlightenment is a ‘humanist’ brewery.” [C.C.]
Opened: June 2012
Nick Nunns’ “tiny-ass” 4-barrel brewhouse only got to be the new guy in town for a month; Denver is a thirsty city. But the draft-only operation has made a name for itself, not only as a Baker neighborhood hangout, but as a team of daring and skilled brewers. Take Prehistoric Dog, their Gose brewed with Hawaiian black lava salt and coriander, or their latest release, Hellion, an American table beer. To try them yourself, though, you’ll have to visit the taproom, where the walls are painted black, the metal is blasting and the staff is affable. “I think we stand out a lot because we’re doing what we damn well want to do,” says Nunns, who left a “soulless desk job” to launch TRVE. “We listen to the music we love and brew the beer we love, and that devotion to both is obvious in the vibe of our taproom.” [C.C.]
Opened: August 2012
When British-born Adam Robbings decided to start a brewery named after his infant son, he refused to compromise the flavor complexities found in his award-winning homebrews or the freedom he had to brew a lot of different styles. “I didn’t want a lot of volume with a few beers,” says Robbings, a telecom worker by day. “I wanted a lot of beers with not a ton of volume.” It’s a philosophy that seems to be working out: They won three World Beer Championship medals in the 2012 competition. Though Robbings estimates Reuben’s Brews will make fewer than 1,000 barrels a year in its current setup, he has already released more than a dozen different beers, using nearly as many grain bills and yeast strains in the process. A locally focused brewery, Reuben’s Brews is in more than 25 bars throughout Seattle, with plans to be in bottles by March or April of this year. [S.B.]
Berkley Beer Co.
Opened: August 2012
Not only have all of Glenn Barboza’s accounts directly contacted him for his beer, but his “local store sold over 100 cases of 22-ounce bombers in the first three months we were open,” says Barboza, who brews alongside Noah Hershey, a current student at the Siebel Institute. Barboza built the brewery himself, from scratch, including “a wood gasification system using lots of recycled wood and cord wood for all our hot water needs and heat for our building.” Taking months to craft each recipe, Berkley launched with a crisp 5-percent Golden Ale and a flavor-packed 7-percent IPA. “We were close to our first tasting and still had not gotten the flavor profile we wanted,” Barboza recalls, “but we made it with two days to spare.” The team projects making 150-200 barrels in 2013, including a Coffee Porter and a one-off. “This has been my dream for some time,” Barboza says. “We don’t plan to get much sleep.” [C.C.]
Rushing Duck Brewing Co.
Opened: August 2012
Founder Dan Hitchcock’s successful Kickstarter fund allowed him to start barrel aging right away, but he and his family have still had to work double-time to keep things going. “We literally have no marketing budget,” says Hitchcock, who built much of the 7-barrel brewhouse himself. Hitchcock left a brewing gig at Weyerbacher to open the brewery. “I loved it there,” he says, “but the creative itch that turned into Rushing Duck was there from my first batch of homebrew.” Named for Hitchcock’s grandfather’s post-Prohibition tradition of refilling a metal pail at the bar (called “rushing the duck”), the family-owned, “no-frills” brewery focuses on making straightforward styles exceptionally well. Hitchcock wants to remain a local operation. With three year-rounders—a hoppy Pale Ale, an IPA and a Strong Ale—and three seasonals so far, he plans to expand the barrel program and brew “as many one-off beers as I can fit in.” [C.C.]
Hawaiian Islands Brewing Company
Opened: October 2012
The island roots of Hawaiian Islands Brewing Company run deep. Owner Frank Wenzl and head brewer Greg Yount have been making beer together since the early ’90s, when Wenzl founded the islands’ first microbrewery, Ali’i Brewery. But beer is a hard business in an isolated state like Hawaii, where ingredients must be shipped in and distribution costs mean most beer never makes it to the mainland. “We had an opportunity to start up again in Honolulu,” explains Wenzl of how he and Yount are again brewing together—this time in a two-story, 15-barrel brewhouse that was untouched, after a brewpub where Yount was once was head brewer closed in 2009. “They didn’t have plans for it. It was just sitting here.” They’ve also added brewer Kai McKillop to the team this time around. Though the brewery’s Hawaii-influenced brews, like their Macadamia Nut Brown Ale and Mango Wheat, are currently available in growler fills and on draft at Oahu’s specialty beer bars, Wenzl hopes he can test out the California market soon. [S.B.]
Black Bottle Brewery
Ft. Collins, Colo.
Opened: December 2012
With beers names like “There Goes the Neighborhood” and “PDA” (Panty Dropper Ale), it’s not hard for Black Bottle owner/head brewer Sean Nook to stand out, even in the city dubbed “Fort Beer.” “We want to offend you, but not make you cry,” says the former master mechanic, a Fort Collins native. On their 7-barrel system, Black Bottle will make about 700 barrels in 2013, recipes that Nook fine-tuned as a homebrewer of eight years. Already in production are 14 beers, from a 4.8-percent Abbey Ale to an Imperial Rye Stout called Liquid Metal. Not only are they on tap at beer bars around town, but Black Bottle’s full bar and kitchen also offers beers from other breweries on their 40 taps. “All craft beer rocks. I am not going to make anyone just order our beer,” Nook says. Three series are in the works, including “seasonal beers brewed out of season” and beers brewed in collaboration with customers (“The Random Hero” series). With barrel operations already up and running, Nook plans to bottle one day, and also wants to open another location to brew on a larger scale. [C.C.]
Breweries to Watch in 2013
With former Southampton Publick House brewer Phil Markowski at the helm, Two Roads will feature subtle twists on classic styles. Set to open in late December 2012.
Heavy Riff Brewing Co.
St. Louis, Mo.
Brothers Jerid and Justin Saffell are launching with a 7-barrel system, but plan to brew one-offs with their 1.5-barrel pilot system, making the taproom a local hotspot.
Atlas Brew Works
DC’s quickly growing brewery scene will welcome Atlas into the fold, starting with a hoppy Pale Ale and a California Common.
A sign that Florida is coming around to craft beer, Wynwood is opening with former Abita brewer Jim Patton as the brewmaster.
San Diego, Calif.
Named after the founders’ grandfathers, ChuckAlek will make “heritage-inspired” beers, including a smoky wheat beer and Dusseldorf-style Altbier.
Off Color Brewing
Former Goose Island brewer John Laffler and Dave Bleitner, formerly of Two Brothers, will launch by resurrecting two near-extinct German styles. ■